Final Thought

Grad Hat

It’s commencement season. At graduation ceremonies far and wide, speakers will look to inspire tomorrow’s leaders. And what will tomorrow’s leaders be doing? A few may be hanging on to every word, but I imagine many will be squirming from cellphone withdrawal, fingers twitching as they prepare to take tons of selfies with their diplomas.

I avoided my own college graduation exercises, there being too much pomp and circumstance for my rebellious soul. However, now that I have matured (at least a little), I’ve come to appreciate the hard work, sacrifice and accomplishment these ceremonies represent.

I’ve attended every imaginable graduation exercise of my own kids. And as a member of academia for more than 15 years, I’ve seen up close the sacrifice of many of my “adopted children,” thus I attend graduation exercises as often as possible.

I sometimes wonder what wisdom I would offer if invited to give a commencement address.

I’d break the ice with a couple of common-sense nuggets from two of the smartest people I’ve ever known:

Beware of blinkers. My dad, the late Carlton Rhodes, a Greyhound bus driver for 37 years, said never trust a turn signal. He was right. Just because a turn signal is blinking doesn’t mean a driver is going to turn. Conversely, just because a signal ISN’T blinking doesn’t mean the driver is NOT going to turn.

Drive like everyone else is crazy. That’s what my father-in-law, Art Johnson, instructed his kids to do. It seems to have worked. They have great driving records.

After these relatively light, but important, bits of practical advice, and maybe a charming story about one of the dogs I had growing up, I would move on to more weighty topics. Among them would be a recommendation — which I could not overemphasize — that these future leaders learn to love change. It is, as the saying goes, the only constant in life, especially now that we are well into the Internet Age.

I’d like to think, after the applause died down, that at least one of those young scholars would Google “change is the only constant in life” and find that this is hardly a new idea. The phrase often is attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesus, born more than 2,500 years ago, but there’s debate over who said it first. Whatever the case, it’s an idea that’s been around awhile and is truer now than ever.


This also is reunion season. Unfortunately, I will miss my own high school class reunion because I’ll be on a trip I just can’t pass up. I’ll report more about the trip after I get back, but for now I’ll just say that I will greatly miss seeing old classmates.

I know the idea of going to a high school reunion gives some folks the heebie-jeebies. In fact, in June 1980 while driving from Conway to Pine Bluff for my 10-year high school reunion, I nearly turned back at Redfield. I get shy when it comes to seeing folks I have not seen in awhile. My trepidation was unnecessary, of course. Everyone was very nice and welcoming.

Last summer I attended a multi-class reunion organized by the senior class that preceded mine. Just before the reunion, Julie and I had a delightful dinner with Susan Wade, who’s been a friend since grade school, and Mary Weger, one of our seventh-grade teachers. Fresh out of college when she taught me and my fellow knuckleheads, Ms. Weger amazingly chose to stay in education for many years. She remembered me as being sweet, which does not jibe with my memory. Funny what one remembers.

Recently I received an email from another person who attended that reunion, Van Brown of Hot Springs, Class of ‘68. He had some great insights about recognizing old classmates. “Some of them,” he said, “would come up to me and ask me if I knew who they were. … Some of them looked nothing like my memories of them, as I am sure that I do not look like what they expected, either. … Some of them would give themselves away with their voice, but there was always a constant: If I was allowed to talk with them for just a little while, the twinkle of their eye was still there, no matter what. That twinkle was the thing that really gave them away for me.”

Mixed feelings over whether to attend a class reunion? Go, and look for twinkling eyes.


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